Chapter 21


From within the great fortress, like the rough husk whence the green lobe of a living tree was about to break forth, a lovely child-soul, that knew neither of war nor ambition, knew indeed almost nothing save love and pain, was gently rising as from the tomb. The bonds of the earthly life that had for ever conferred upon it the rights and privileges of humanity were giving way, and little, white-faced, big-eyed Molly was leaving father and mother and grandfather and spouting horse and all, to find--what?--To find what she wanted, and wait a little for what she loved. One sultry evening in the second week of June, the weather had again got inside the inhabitants of the castle, forming different combinations according to the local atmosphere it found in each. Clouds had been slowly steaming up all day from several sides of the horizon, and as the sun went down, they met in the zenith. Not a wing seemed to be abroad under heaven, so still was the region of storms. The air was hot and heavy and hard to breathe--whether from lack of life, or too much of it, oppressing the narrow and weak recipients thereof, as the sun oppresses and extinguishes earthly fires, I at least cannot say. It was weather that made SOME dogs bite their masters, made most of the maids quarrelsome, and all the men but one or two more or less sullen, made Dorothy sad, Molly long after she knew not what, her mother weep, her grandfather feel himself growing old, and the hearts of all the lovers, within and without the castle, throb for the comfort of each other's lonely society. The fish lay still in the ponds, the pigeons sat motionless on the roof-ridges, and the fountains did not play; for Dorothy's heart was so heavy about Molly, that she had forgotten them. The marquis, fond of all his grandchildren, had never taken special notice of Molly beyond what she naturally claimed as youngest. But when it appeared that she was one of the spring-flowers of the human family, so soon withdrawing thither whence they come, he found that she began to pull at his heart, not merely with the attraction betwixt childhood and age, in which there is more than the poets have yet sung, but with the dearness which the growing shadow of death gives to all upon whom it gathers. The eyes of the child seemed to nestle into his bosom. Every morning he paid her a visit, and every morning it was clear that little Molly's big heart had been waiting for him. The young as well as the old recognize that they belong to each other, despite the unwelcome intervention of wrinkles and baldness and toothlessness. Molly's eyes brightened when she heard his steps at the door, and ere he had come within her sight, where she lay half-dressed on her mother's bed, tented in its tall carved posts and curtains of embroidered silk, the figures on which gave her so much trouble all the half-delirious night long, her arms would be stretched out to him, and the words would be trembling on her lips, 'Prithee, tell me a tale, sir.' 'Which tale wouldst thou have, my Molly?' the grandsire would say: it was the regular form of each day's fresh salutation; and the little one would answer, 'Of the good Jesu,' generally adding, 'and of the damsel which fell sick and died.' Torn as the country was, all the good grandparents, catholic and protestant, royalist and puritan, told their children the same tales about the same man; and I suspect there was more then than there is now of that kind of oral teaching, for which any amount of books written for children is a sadly poor substitute. Although Molly asked oftenest for the tale of the damsel who came alive again at the word of the man who knew all about death, she did not limit her desires to the repetition of what she knew already; and in order to keep his treasure supplied with things new as well as old, the marquis went the oftener to his Latin bible to refresh his memory for Molly's use, and was in both ways, in receiving and in giving, a gainer. When the old man came thus to pour out his wealth to the child, lady Margaret then first became aware what a depth both of religious knowledge and feeling there was in her father-in-law. Neither sir Toby Mathews, nor Dr. Bayly, who also visited her at times, ever, with the torch of their talk, lighted the lamps behind those great eyes, whose glass was growing dull with the vapours from the grave; but her grandfather's voice, the moment he began to speak to her of the good Jesu, brought her soul to its windows. This sultry evening Molly was restless. 'Madam! madam!' she kept calling to her mother--for, like so many of such children, her manners and modes of speech resembled those of grown people, 'What wouldst thou, chicken?' her mother would ask. 'Madam, I know not,' the child would answer. Twenty times in an hour, as the evening went on, almost the same words would pass between them. At length, once more, 'Madam! madam!' cried the child. 'What would my heart's treasure?' said the mother; and Molly answered, 'Madam, I would see the white horse spout.' With a glance and sign to her mistress. Dorothy rose and crept from the room, crossed the court and the moat, and dragged her heavy heart up the long stair to the top of the keep. Arrived there, she looked down through a battlement, and fixed her eyes on a certain window, whence presently she caught the wave of a signal-handkerchief. At the open window stood lady Margaret with Molly in her arms. The night was so warm that the child could take no hurt; and indeed what could hurt her, with the nameless fever-moth within, fretting a passage for the new winged body which, in the pains of a second birth, struggled to break from its dying chrysalis. 'Now, Molly, tell the horse to spout,' said lady Margaret, with such well-simulated cheerfulness as only mothers can put on with hearts ready to break. 'Mother Mary, tell the horse to spout,' said Molly; and up went the watery parabolas. The old flame of delight flushed the child's cheek, like the flush in the heart of a white rose. But it died almost instantly, and murmuring, 'Thanks, good madam!' whether to mother Mary or mother Margaret little mattered, Molly turned towards the bed, and her mother knew at her heart that the child sought her last sleep--as we call it, God forgive us our little faith! 'Madam!' panted the child, as she laid her down. 'Darling?' said the mother. 'Madam, I would see my lord marquis.' 'I will send and ask him to come.' 'Let Robert say that Molly is going--going--where is Molly going, madam?' 'Going to mother Mary, child,' answered lady Margaret, choking back the sobs that would have kept the tears company. 'And the good Jesu ?' 'Yes.'--'And the good God over all ?' 'Yes, yes.' 'I want to tell my lord marquis. Pray, madam, let him come, and quickly.' His lordship entered, pale and panting. He knew the end was approaching. Molly stretched out to him one hand instead of two, as if her hold upon earth were half yielded. He sat down by the bedside, and wiped his forehead with a sigh. 'Thee tired too, marquis?' asked the odd little love-bird. 'Yes, I am tired, my Molly. Thou seest I am so fat.' 'Shall I ask the good mother, when I go to her, to make thee spare like Molly?' 'No, Molly, thou need'st not trouble her about that. Ask her to make me good.' 'Would it then be easier to make thee good than to make thee spare, marquis?' 'No, child--much harder, alas!' 'Then why--?' began Molly; but the marquis perceiving her thought, made haste to prevent it, for her breath was coming quick and weak. 'But it is so much better worth doing, you see. If she makes me good, she will have another in heaven to be good to.' 'Then I know she will. But I will ask her. Mother Mary has so many to mind, she might be forgetting.' After this she lay very quiet with her hand in his. All the windows of the room were open, and from the chapel came the mellow sounds of the organ. Delaware had captured Tom Fool and got him to blow the bellows, and through the heavy air the music surged in. Molly was dozing a little, and she spoke as one that speaks in a dream. 'The white horse is spouting music,' she said. 'Look! See how it goes up to mother Mary. She twists it round her distaff and spins it with her spindle. See, marquis, see! Spout, horse, spout.' She lay silent again for a long time. The old man sat holding her hand; her mother sat on the farther side of the bed, leaning against one of the foot-posts, and watching the white face of her darling with eyes in which love ruled distraction. Dorothy sat in one of the window-seats, and listened to the music, which still came surging in, for still the fool blew the bellows, and the blind youth struck the keys. And still the clouds gathered overhead and sunk towards the earth; and still the horse, which Dorothy had left spouting, threw up his twin-fountain, whose musical plash in the basin as it fell mingled with the sounds of the organ. 'What is it?' said Molly, waking up. 'My head doth not ache, and my heart doth not beat, and I am not affrighted. What is it? I am not tired. Marquis, are you no longer tired? Ah, now I know! He cometh! He is here!--Marquis, the good Jesu wants Molly's hand. Let him have it, marquis. He is lifting me up. I am quite well--quite--' The sentence remained broken. The hand which the marquis had yielded, with the awe of one in bodily presence of the Holy, and which he saw raised as if in the grasp of one invisible, fell back on the bed, and little Molly was quite well. But she left sick hearts behind. The mother threw herself on the bed, and wailed aloud. The marquis burst into tears, left the room, and sought his study. Mechanically he took his Confessio Amantis, and sat down, but never opened it; rose again and took his Shakespere, opened it, but could not read; rose once more, took his Vulgate, and read: 'Quid turbamini, et ploratis? puella non est mortua, sed dormit.' He laid that book also down, fell on his knees, and prayed for her who was not dead but sleeping. Dorothy, filled with awe, rather from the presence of the mother of the dead than death itself, and feeling that the mother would rather be alone with her dead, also left the room, and sought her chamber, where she threw herself upon the bed. All was still save the plashing of the fountain, for the music from the chapel had ceased. The storm burst in a glare and a peal. The rain fell in straight lines and huge drops, which came faster and faster, drowning the noise of the fountain, till the sound of it on the many roofs of the place was like the trampling of an army of horsemen, and every spout was gurgling musically with full throat. The one court was filled with a clashing upon its pavement, and the other with a soft singing upon its grass, with which mingled a sound as of little castanets from the broad leaves of the water-lilies in the moat. Ever and anon came the lightning, and the great bass of the thunder to fill up the psalm. At the first thunderclap lady Margaret fell on her knees and prayed in an agony for the little soul that had gone forth into the midst of the storm. Like many women she had a horror of lightning and thunder, and it never came into her mind that she who had so loved to see the horse spout was far more likely to be revelling in the elemental tumult, with all the added ecstasy of newborn freedom and health, than to be trembling like her mortal mother below. Dorothy was not afraid, but she was heavy and weary; the thunder seemed to stun her and the lightning to take the power of motion from the shut eyelids through which it shone. She lay without moving, and at length fell fast asleep. To the marquis alone of the mourners the storm came as a relief to his overcharged spirit. He had again opened his New Testament, and tried to read; but if the truths which alone can comfort are not at such a time present to the spirit, the words that embody them will seldom be of much avail. When the thunder burst he closed the book and went to the window, flung it wide, and looked out into the court. Like a tide from the plains of innocent heaven through the sultry passionate air of the world, came the coolness to his brow and heart. Oxygen, ozone, nitrogen, water, carbonic acid, is it? Doubtless--and other things, perhaps, which chemistry cannot detect. Nevertheless, give its parts what names you will, its whole is yet the wind of the living God to the bodies of men, his spirit to their spirits, his breath to their hearts. When I learn that there is no primal intent--only chance--in the unspeakable joy that it gives, I shall cease to believe in poetry, in music, in woman, in God. Nay, I must have already ceased to believe in God ere I could believe that the wind that bloweth where it listeth is free because God hath forgotten it, and that it bears from him no message to me.